Families of incarcerated individuals in Georgia have to pay big to hear the voices of their loved ones. Georgia ranks among the least affordable states in terms of jail and prison phone calls. These exorbitant fees are aggravating for people such as Ariel Lopez, a woman from Dawson, Georgia, whose husband has been in the Clayton County Correctional Institute since February.
“Since April of this year until now, I have spent… almost $900 on phone calls,” Lopez said. That does not even include the fees that companies such as Securus Technologies charge for providing the phone services. Securus charges three dollars every time you add money to your account, Lopez said.
Securus Technologies is a technology communications firm that serves correctional facilities across the country. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Securus is one of two companies that collectively control around 80% of the jail and prison telephone market in the United States.
According to Prison Phone Justice, Georgia ranks 35th in the nation in terms of call affordability and has an average “kickback” to local governments of 59.6%. That resulted in more than eight million dollars paid out to the state and local counties in Georgia in 2019, the third highest in the nation according to justice policy group, Reform Georgia,
The Jail Phone Racket in Athens
The commission to the Athens-Clarke County government from the phone services at the ACC jail is much greater than the state average. According to the most recent Securus Technologies contract that ACC Sheriff John Q. Williams signed on April 19, 2022, the ACC government receives a commission of 70.6% of all “revenues earned through the completion of calls placed from the [jail].”
As specified by ACC Assistant Finance Director Chris Caldwell, the ACC government received a total of $224,433.02 from Securus Technologies for jail phone commissions between August 2022 and July 2023. Caldwell said that, “these funds are recorded as general fund revenue and help offset the overall cost of jail operations.”
According to ACC Jail Commander Frank Woods, a 15 minute phone call costs $2.90 for inmates at the Athens-Clarke County Jail. This would mean a person would spend a little under $12 to talk to a loved one for an hour, which adds up.
“The vast majority of the people that we have in this facility are not [yet] sentenced,” said Woods. This means that the ACC jail is charging Athenians who have not been determined to be guilty for its phone services.
Personal Accounts of Steep Prison Phone Bills
Mallory Odam of Waycross, Georgia has a few friends and family members in different prisons around Georgia. Odam’s cousin, who she views as an older brother, is currently in Colquitt County Prison.
“I talk to him two to three times a week now. He used to call everyday, but it’s expensive and the place he transferred to is more expensive than the last place,” Odam said.
Michelle Robinson of Habersham County, Georgia has been with her fiance for nearly three years. He is currently in Telfair State Prison and Robinson says that she tries to talk to him four or fives times a day.
“It costs me probably about 100 dollars a week, sometimes more. We were trying to cut back on it but it’s hard for him in there,” Robinson said.
Georgia’s Incarceration Problem
Georgia ranks fourth for the most incarcerated persons of any state in the U.S., according to a 2021 US Department of Justice report. The Southern Center for Human Rights shows Georgia has the highest rate of correctional supervision in the country, which includes people that are incarcerated, on probation or on parole.
Furthermore, the systemic race issues that exist across the U.S. prison system are enhanced in the state of Georgia. Black adults account for almost 60% of the incarcerated population in Georgia, but only 31.8% of the overall adult population, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) voted to cap jail and prison phone rates at between 11 and 22 cents a minute and eliminate some other fees. This caused ACC to rework their contract with Securus.
However, Securus and other similar companies sued the FCC over their decision, and won. Securus Technologies, along with Global Tel Link, continue to set prices nationally in prisons and jails for their services.
In 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. struck down the FCC’s rate cap because they said that the agency had overstepped its authority. This court decision has affected the lives of people across the country, and especially in Georgia. Lopez describes the system that is in place as “aggravating,” in particular because the prices have been raised a couple times this year already.
Kyle Brubacher is a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia.
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